On December 3, 2021, the participants of the Leadership & Staff Development Program (LSDP) met in a virtual Zoom meeting for our second session. The participants in attendance were Erica Collins from UE Local 119, Sekia Royall and Dominic Harris from UE Local 150, Wayne Morrison from UE Local 243, Antwon Gibson from UE Local 610, Delores Phillips from UE Local 1118, Larry Hopkins from UE Local 1177, Sabir Sabir from UE Local 1421, UE Project Staff Charles Brown and Chris Hollis, and myself.
The program opened with Larry Hopkins explaining UE structure and highlighting the importance of having a democratic decision-making process. Dominic Harris commented, “It’s important to emphasize that our members run the union. It's important that our members are involved and it's important that every decision is made out in the open.” All participants agreed and understood the importance of having a union run from the bottom up by rank-and-file members.
The creation of the LSDP is one of the many ways that this principle is put into action. The program was approved with a vote at the national convention and will help make sure future UE leaders are representative of membership and come from backgrounds that are underrepresented; this will also bring rank-and-file members into leadership and staff roles. While discussing UE structure and democratic principles, we have started to develop a sense of mutual understanding and comradery. Delores Phillips commented “It feels good to be around such strong UE leaders.”
During the first session, held on October 22, 2021, each participant was provided with a UE checklist for a strong local. We were asked to review the checklist with our executive boards to identify areas where our locals have room for improvement and come up with a plan of action to achieve those improvements. In the second session, we reported back to each other and discussed how often we had membership meetings, how to effectively communicate with members, UE’s open books financial policy, the importance of regular financial audits, participation in regional and national conventions, recruitment of stewards, and more.
Each participant had their own perspectives and ideas that were informed by their unique life experiences, allowing all participants to benefit from a wide range of knowledge and experience. Christopher Hollis offered his advice on how to recruit stewards and members and how to encourage members to be more active, saying "Build a relationship with them. Really, just listen to them. A lot of people have issues they won't discuss with you if they don't feel comfortable with you. Get them to understand that we as workers have more power than a boss does if we have solidarity.”
Antwon Gibson chimed in, saying “It's about empowering, inspiring, and encouraging people so that we can unite based on what we all want. Higher wages, better health care, better working environments." Larry Hopkins offered advice on talking to new members and membership orientation, saying “Reach out to new people who don’t know the history of past contract struggles. Encourage new members, give them a description of what the union is about so they can learn from it.”
It was very encouraging and inspiring to be a part of this program and to learn about activism and union organizing from so many experienced and talented organizers from diverse backgrounds. In my experience, working with activist organizations in the past, I found that representation from diverse backgrounds was usually more of a talking point than it was a principle. Learning about UE’s history of fighting for workers of all racial backgrounds and our bottom-up democratic structure, and working with the other participants from diverse backgrounds, left me with all the confidence in the world that UE is a union that takes representation seriously as a principle.
Witnessing so many activists devoted to fighting for worker’s rights made me feel more hopeful for the future of the labor movement; with so many dedicated activists on UE’s side, the bosses had better watch their backs.
The Leadership and Staff Development Program is being coordinated by Angaza Laughinghouse, Local 150, UE Staff Coordinator Kim Lawson, and UE Director of Education Kari Thompson. An earlier version of this article posted online, and in the Winter 2022 print issue, incorrectly identified Sister Lawson as UE Chief of Staff.
PHOTO: At the first session of the LSDP, participants were asked to send in selfies. Top row, left to right: Dominic Harris and Angaza Laughinghouse, Local 150; Wayne Morrison, Local 243; and Antwon Gibson, Local 610. Bottom row, left to right: Fred Hatef, Local 1008; Delores Phillips, Local 1118; Larry Hopkins, Local 1177; and Sabir Sabir, Local 1421. Not pictured: Erica Collins, Local 119; Sekia Royall, Local 150; and UE Project Staff Charles Brown and Chris Hollis.